During your job search, you come across a posting that says the position is full-time. And while you’re confident that means 40 hours a week, is that what it really means?
What if the employer says full-time means you work only 35 hours a week? Or, do they expect you to work 50? Just how many hours is full-time?
How Is Full-Time Status Determined?
While the federal government sets rules on many aspectds of the employer-employee relationship, it does not define how many hours a full-time job is!
The U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) specifically states that the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) “does not define full-time or part-time employment.” It goes on to say that determining full-time status is completely up to the employer.
That said, the FLSA contains rules regarding overtime pay that may create some confusion about the definition of “full-time employee.”
The Act states that certain employees must receive overtime pay (time and a half) for every hour over 40 that they work. However, that rule only applies to nonexempt employees—those not exempt from the Act’s provisions.
Exempt employees, however, do not receive overtime pay. An exempt employee is generally a “white-collar” employee, though there are some exemptions. Beyond job title or classification, the FLSA looks at wages to determine exempt status. Any salaried employee (meaning they receive the same pay rate no matter how many hours they work per week) who earns at least $684 a week is considered exempt and, therefore, is not entitled to overtime pay no matter how many hours they work.
Your Status Matters
Traditionally, a 40-hour workweek is the “gold standard” for full-time employment (whether you are exempt or nonexempt). But because employers can define it however they want, you can work 35, 37.5, or even 30 hours per week and be full-time!
But if the government doesn’t have any rules to determine how many hours full-time is, does it matter how many hours a week you work—even when your employer says you can work less than 40 hours a week and be full-time?
Though the DOL doesn’t define what full-time is, the Affordable Care Act (ACA) does! And the number of hours you work per week impacts whether or not you’re eligible for health insurance through your employer.
The ACA states that employers with more than 50 full-time employees must provide health insurance to all full-time staff. The Act defines full-time as working 30 hours or more per week for at least 120 days per year for the same employer. The ACA also specifically defines part-time as less than 30 hours per week.
So, though your employer may say you can work 25 hours a week and still be full-time, you may not be eligible for employer-sponsored health insurance.
Beyond Health Insurance
In addition to health insurance, most employers also offer additional benefits, but usually only to full-time employees. This includes things like paid time off, retirement accounts (with matches), and other types of insurance (life, disability, etc.).
Finally, whether you are full-time or part-time, as long as you meet other requirements, you are eligible to receive unpaid leave under the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA). However, the number of hours you work per week also impacts whether or not your job is protected.
Specifically, you have to have worked for your employer for at least 12 months and for at least 1,250 hours during the past 12 months. That means that over 52 weeks, you have to work at least 24 hours per week. If your employer defines full-time as 23 hours per week, you likely won’t be eligible for FMLA-protected leave if you need it.
Full-Time Hours Vary
Because there are no federal guidelines that define full-time status, before you accept a job offer, make sure you understand how your employer defines it. The number of hours you work could have a significant impact on your benefits, as well as your overall employment experience.
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